A feature series highlighting the last 10 Steelers drafts 10 days before the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, Behind the Steel Curtain managing editor Neal Coolong will evaluate the impact of each of the last 10 Steelers draft classes.
1 (30): Heath Miller, TE, Virginia
2 (62): Bryant McFadden, CB, Florida State
3 (93): Trai Essex, OT, Northwestern
4 (131): Fred Gibson, WR, Georgia
5 (166): Rian Wallace, LB, Temple
6 (204): Chris Kemoeatu, OG, Utah
7 (228): Shaun Nua, DE, BYU
7 (244): Noah Herron, RB, Northwestern
The disappointment of losing the AFC Championship game to the Patriots at the end of the 2004 season loomed large as the Steelers headed into the 2005 NFL Draft. They held the 30th overall pick, the lowest first round position the team had since 2002.
The team was stacked, as evidenced by its incredible run of 15 consecutive wins in the regular season and post-season. With a quarterback poised to enter into the conversation of the best in the game, and a re-vamped running game - not to mention the addition of defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who would lead the team to a top defensive scoring mark in his first year back - the Steelers had a loaded team with a full arsenal of picks to build depth and a future core group of players.
The Steelers were in the enviable position of being able to sit back and look at luxury. If they had a pressing need, it was an upgrade at the tight end position - a position that netted a total of 17 catches the previous year, all in the absence of the team's first round pick (27th overall) in 1995, Mark Bruener. A team that ran the ball frequently didn't necessarily have a need for a pass-catching tight end, so the target became the athletic and balanced Heath Miller - a soft-spoken small-town former quarterback who showed loads of potential blocking and receiving.
After getting nothing from the team's previous two second round picks (Alonzo Jackson and Ricardo Colclough), they picked up a solid cornerback prospect, Florida State's Bryant McFadden.
McFadden would go on to be one of the team's best second round picks in the Kevin Colbert Era - which may or may not say more about Colbert than about McFadden. He was one of a dozen players to play on all three of the Steelers super Bowl teams in the 2000s.
In the previous two years, the Steelers hit big in the first round, and might have gotten some contributing help later. In 2005, they had success with all three of their first three picks, netting Trai Essex in the third round. Essex, while not outstanding, became a versatile swing linemen, and, when he played center in 2011 became (believed to be) the first player in team history to play all five positions on the offensive line. Essex was in camp with the team in 2012 but was released in favor of Kelvin Beachum - a player who, not coincidentally, has the same kind of versatility Essex had in his career.
After hitting on Willie Parker in the undrafted market the previous year, the Steelers hit it again in 2005. They picked up Division III wide receiver Nate Washington, fullback John Kuhn and long-snapper Greg Warren.
Washington set an NFL record in 2008 when he had receptions of 50 yards or more in four straight games. Kuhn would eventually lose a roster spot in Pittsburgh but has had a fair amount of success in Green Bay, winning a Super Bowl while starting for the Packers in 2010. Warren was just re-signed with the Steelers to play his ninth season in the NFL.
It's just those later picks the Steelers really didn't have room for who didn't work out.
Considering the level of stability the Steelers got from the undrafted players, and Miller's outstanding contributions, the draft was no doubt a success. Perhaps not on the high end, like what the team would eventually get from Ben Roethlisberger (2004) and Troy Polamalu (2003), it was a great draft for depth and consistency.